Following is the full transcript of psychotherapist Susan Henkels’ talk titled “What if There’s Nothing Wrong With You” at TEDxSedona conference.
Susan Henkels – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 45 years, listening to everything that’s wrong with people.
And I was listening to a woman once talk about her whole list of what was wrong with her, and I thought, in the middle of this litany: What if there’s actually nothing wrong with her? Could that question clear the way for her to have anything she wanted — anything she wanted to have, anything she wanted to do?
Well, I’m not saying that there isn’t anything wrong with you right now. I’m just saying, what if there weren’t? So could you have more confidence and courage to do something that you have always been passionate about?
I’m learning how to play the banjo, and it’s been on my bucket list for years. So I’ve always been kind of bored with hearing people say, “It is what it is.”
It just sounded like, first of all, it was the most used cliché in 2006. Everybody was saying, “It is what it is.” And I hated it.
It was like there isn’t anything you can do about it; it was total resignation.
But what if “it is what it is” is really just that? No judgment, no blame, no criticism. What if you could just have a full plate of just “it is what it is”?
Not all that story we tell about ourselves to justify, you know, to make other people wrong and ourselves right. I mean, could we have anything other than that?
We have the film festival every year. I had the fortune of meeting the most fabulous director of documentaries, and he said to me, “When you’re not watching movies, what are you doing?”
So I said, “Well, I’m writing a book. It’s called ‘What if there is nothing wrong with you?‘”
And he looked at me, and he said, “I can tell you right now eight things that are wrong with me.”
So I said, “Name one.”
And he said, very defiantly and certainly, “I have oppositional defiant disorder.”
I’m like, “Like I couldn’t tell, right?” So I said to him, “What’s wrong with that?”
He said, “Well, I, um, I would always defy my parents and teachers.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that?”
“I wouldn’t comply with any of the rules at school, and I didn’t do anything I was told to do at home.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
He said, “Well, I was always in a bad temper. I argued with my parents all the time. I never had any friends, and I loved being alone.”
I said, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”
And we had several interactions like that, and at some point during the interactions, he said to me, “Hmm, you know, actually, I really like being alone. And I was able to write stories, write film scripts in my head. Come to think of it, I think oppositional defiant disorder has me be the great film director that I am.” He said, “I actually like not having a right or wrong diagnosis about this, just accepting it is what it is.”
The next day, he found me, he came up to me, and he said, “I slept through the night for the first time in years, not having to make myself wrong, decide what I should be doing and shouldn’t be doing.” He said, “You know, I’m going to look at those seven other things that I was so sure were wrong with me.”
That was really fun; that was really fun to interact with him like that.
Let me see. What do I want to say next? What if there’s nothing wrong with not knowing what you’re going to say next?
I was at a swimming pool once, and the woman next to me said, “What are you writing about?”
I said, “I’m writing a book called ‘What if there’s nothing wrong with you?‘”
She looked at me, and she said, “Well, now, we wouldn’t be very interesting, would we?”
And I thought, how much time and energy we spend talking about what’s wrong, and actually we really do create this whole list of what we think is wrong and then create an entire life around decisions we made probably when we were five years old.
So that was another interesting thing that I discovered, that all this time we spend just talking about what’s wrong. So wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop fighting ourselves, stop being our own worst enemy and go do something that, really, we really want to do? That would really be great.
So this is all about the practice of dissolving judgment, blame and criticism and just replacing all of that with what is. And that makes “What if there’s nothing wrong with you?” an inquiry worth having.